Letter to the Unknown Warrior

The tombstone of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey

As a lasting tribute to the anonymous fallen of the Great War, last year the British Library called for people around the country to write their own personal messages to the statue of a World War One soldier, reading a letter, on Platform 1 of King’s Cross Station. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission stated in 2009 that 526,816 British and Commonwealth Great War soldiers have no known grave, but are named on various memorials. This soldier, along with the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, is a shrine to these dead who have never been properly remembered individually, but have collectively become immortal. The letters, collected now and available to read at http://www.1418now.org.uk/letter//, aimed to create a new, living memorial to mark the Great War Centenary.

We invite you to ‘unite in remembering’ the fallen of the Great War with us in the wake of Remembrance Day. To honour those who died, we have written our own ‘letter to the Unknown Soldier’:

Dear Unknown Warrior,

War is hell. Even those of us who have never been near a battlefield are well aware of that… thanks partly to scenes fed to us by Hollywood – ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Band of Brothers’ especially spring to mind – and partly to the written accounts of those who were there. The former should be more shocking and stirring than the latter, as films are meant to bring to life the most horrific, dramatic stories that one can imagine, but somehow they never are. The most prosaic diaries become positively stirring when they embark on tales of battle. The blind fear; the sickening grief of seeing friends cut down; the far more complicated feelings experienced while watching an enemy die, wanting to hate, but somehow being unable, deep down in the soul, to see suffering and terror in a fellow human being without compassion and sorrow. Then perhaps, years later for those lucky enough to survive, the inability to forget terrible scenes that play again and again.

Who would go to war?

And yet you did. Perhaps you even volunteered, knowing exactly what you were in for. Why? Because the only thing more frightening than the thought of suffering, tears, pain and scars, was imagining your children crying and in agony. Imagining your parents being crippled by enemy fire, your wife being subjected to the will of occupying forces. So you went, because living through bad experiences was infinitely preferable to allowing those you loved to suffer. You took that weight onto your shoulders, and you cheerfully faced hell and everything that it could throw at you. Thank you for putting your family and your country first, and for going to war so that we wouldn’t have to go through what you did.

Unfortunately, if you’re the warrior I’m writing to, you didn’t make it through the war. You never saw your wife and little ones again, or held your mother in your arms. Perhaps you died surrounded by men who had become dear to you, and who would later tell your kinfolk of your heroic deeds; perhaps you died alone and scared. Either way, fate decreed that you would end up in an unnamed grave, if you received a burial at all. Your family will never know where you lie, and you will remain lost in history – but not forgotten. Never forgotten! The Unknown Warrior represents the promise that a soldier’s deeds will live on when he does not, and that no family will find that there isn’t a grave to lay flowers on. It may not be your personal grave, but it is that of one like you, who may have shared a joke with you, who definitely shared common experiences, and who loved his family just as much as you did. An Unknown Warrior need never be alone, as thousands of soldiers share that title, and split the honour, the songs, the gratitude and the outpouring of affection that goes with it. We Shall Remember You.

With love from all at Forces War Records

In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row
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